The Art of Retention: Strategies for Keeping Key Personnel in Your Organization
By Judith Mewhort, Managing Partner, Montridge Advisory Group Ltd.
The Art of Retention: Strategies for Keeping Key Personnel in Your Organization
The challenges that employers have faced over the last three years have been extraordinary. Having survived the Covid-19 pandemic, business owners and human resource directors now must adapt to a partially or fully remote workforce, quiet quitting, a rise in mental health concerns, a desire for greater flexibility, and so much more. The shift in the concerns of workers worldwide has made it increasingly difficult to retain staff and none more so than your key people.
So what is an organization to do? The answer may surprise you. In a survey from Employ, 1200 HR decision makers and recruiters stated the number one reason people left their organization was for more money (37.1%). However, a recent article in Leaders Magazine, citing several surveys, concluded that while employees state that better pay is important, it ranks tenth, not first! Resolving the disconnect between what organizations feel is the key to retention versus what employees express is important to them could be a significant factor in your company’s future success.
So what are the areas that are important to workers and even more so to your senior people:
- Purpose and mission
- Alignment between their personal values and the company’s culture
- Opportunities for advancement
- Flexibility regarding hours of work as well as taking leave
- Growth and development opportunities
- Impact and influence over critical changes
So what are the things your organization can do to improve retention?
Be Clear About Your Firm’s Reason For Being
This is more than a slogan. This is the embodiment of your values and how you demonstrate those values over time. To get it truly right, strategies, goals, tasks, and the work environment must reflect those values in large and small ways. For example, at Montridge, our Mission is “To support our clients in caring for the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of their employees”. Therefore, our work culture must reflect that mission not only for our clients but for our own employees. To help the well-being of our employees, we have implemented flexible work hours, a generous vacation allowance, a hybrid working model, and financial support. Our mission shows up in a variety of ways including an adaptable leave policy and adjustable working hours that enable people to pick up children from school or to take elderly parents to medical appointments.
When you look at your organization’s mission, is it supported at all levels of your firm in both small and large ways? If not, you likely have some work to do.
Nurture and Promote From Within
Promoting from within often garners increased loyalty which is one of the keys to retaining staff. It is important that employees understand the steps necessary to move forward in their career path, such as goals to be met, courses to be taken, and skills to be demonstrated. Leadership needs to provide regular, meaningful feedback and ensure that skill and technical development is part of the nurturing and training of the next generation of management and leaders.
In addition to providing a clear road map to career advancement, it is vital that unconscious bias or discrimination doesn’t get in the way of promoting people. Your organization will lose excellent people who become frustrated and discouraged if they are overlooked due to our human tendency to want to be around others that look like or think like us.
If your organization is smaller with a relatively flat hierarchy promoting from within is still possible. It’s more about providing interesting work and offering new challenges for those that want them more than a new title. However, be prepared to offer additional compensation or other perks when increasing job duties or responsibilities. Piling on more work without recognition and reward is a surefire way to a rapid exit.
In addition, there is often a longer timeline to leadership roles within a smaller organization due to fewer positions but the ability to have a greater impact on a firm’s trajectory will be rewarding in and of itself for the right candidate provided that there is a forward movement for their career path and the company.
Offer Professional Development Opportunities
Fresh ideas and the ability to share challenges, problems, and successes with colleagues in the same industry or profession can bring a fresh perspective and new energy to your management team. Industry conferences, working groups, courses, and working toward designations or degrees can be incredibly powerful. Developing new skills improves technical abilities but also provides employees with a confidence boost and can enhance problem-solving abilities.
When markets change or growth slows, professional development or travel is often an area in which firms cut back. While this can be a sensible approach in market downturns, it can come at the cost of slower long-term growth. Employee turnover is expensive. Losing key people even more so. Be careful not to reduce expenditures that are central to retention, training, and promotion in the long term as a way to bump the bottom line in the short term.
Ensure Transparent Communication Both Up and Down the Reporting Hierarchy
The importance of clear, bi-directional communication cannot be overstated. When plans and strategies only travel in a downward direction with little or no meaningful input from those on the front line or nearest to the problem, the result is frustration, feeling undervalued, and being overlooked.
Not being heard or having one’s ideas co-opted by another may be the fastest way to having your best, most engaged people leave your business.
In larger organizations, a structured hierarchy can have many benefits but cross-pollination of ideas is not one of them. Ensure that there are both formal and informal ways to have information and ideas transmitted. Make sure that there are regular check-ins for key people with both their reports and those that supervise their growth and development. When adopting new ideas, new technology, or new divisions, make sure that all the stakeholders are present and providing input, and the feedback of those on the frontlines be incorporated into the planning.
Offer Benefits Tailored to the Needs of Your People
Benefits and compensation are the go-to when employers are looking at recruitment and retention strategies. It makes sense, as 80% of potential hires consider compensation and the quality of benefits when weighing job opportunities. But the key to retention for senior people lies with aligning your benefits to support your mission and values as well as ensuring that the benefits on offer resonate and provide a degree of customization and individualization.
There is a tendency within organizations to want to treat everyone the same. Unfortunately, a plan that treats everyone the same is not equitable as the needs of individuals at various points in their careers differ. One of the best ways to find out what appeals to your key people is to ask them. Survey your key people to find out what their priorities are and be prepared to adjust benefits and compensation to suit their needs. Flexibility can be built into an existing framework through a variety of methods without creating a discriminatory situation. Allowing you people to tailor their total compensation to suit their individual needs whether it is enhanced leave, greater retirement contributions, more support for family, or support for charitable causes will go a long way to improving their perception of your organization as one that cares about them as an individual and values their role in your company thus increasing loyalty and productivity.
One additional word of caution is to ensure that compensation to your current key staff is equal to or better than anything you would offer to attract a new hire for the same position. With compensation transparency legislation in force or planned for many jurisdictions, existing staff can easily determine if your organization is more interested in attracting new talent than retaining those already contributing to the success of your firm.
Manage Change Well
As companies grow, change is necessary for survival. The next generation of leaders needs to be involved in creating and leading that change and not simply left to implement policy after the fact.
When managing change, it is very important that people at all levels of the organization understand the reasons change is necessary, what the nature of the change will be, the plan to implement and follow through on the proposed change, how the process will be communicated, and how roadblocks will be dealt with as they arise. It is especially important that key people are armed with the necessary communication tools to convey their ideas, concerns, and frustrations but also those of their direct reports and frontline workers.
Companies need to be open to, and have a process for encouraging key people to propose and champion new ideas and processes. Ambitious, curious, and driven key people will leave an environment that is stagnating. Conversely, many companies are guilty of chasing the next shiny new thing without working through the recommended steps in the change management process or abandoning the change part way through the process. Stagnation or change for the sake of change are both surefire ways to lose your best and brightest.
As with many things in life, complex problems have simple, easy-to-understand wrong answers. When considering retention strategies for your key personnel, it is not enough to simply consider enhancements to compensation and benefits. While those are both important for your senior people – or those who wish to be – it is all the other more complex and harder to define elements that are key to retention.